Good to Great

by

Jim Collins

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Jim Collins Character Analysis

Jim Collins is the book’s author, as well as its first-person narrator. He led the research team that developed and carried out the book’s central study on the patterns potentially driving the success of good-to-great companies, and he intersperses personal reflections and occasional anecdotes from his own life within the book’s chapters. A former Stanford Business School professor, Collins also breaks down the common characteristics of good-to-great company leaders throughout the book. His previous book, Built to Last, discusses how companies sustain greatness over time, and Collins states that he eventually came to view Good to Great as a kind of prequel to that earlier work—that is, it explores how companies may become great in the first place. Collins consistently demonstrates a democratic idea of success by emphasizing that the good-to-great transformation is both comprehensible and attainable, the result of sustained effort rather than merely a series of lucky breaks.

Jim Collins Quotes in Good to Great

The Good to Great quotes below are all either spoken by Jim Collins or refer to Jim Collins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Possibility of Transformation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of Good to Great published in 2011.
Chapter 1  Quotes

The best answer I can give is that it was an iterative process of looping back and forth, developing ideas and testing them against the data, revising the ideas, building a framework, seeing it break under the weight of evidence, and rebuilding it yet again. That process was repeated over and over, until everything hung together in a coherent framework of concepts.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

That good is the enemy of great is not just a business problem. It is a human problem. If we have cracked the code on the question of good to great, we should have something of value to any type of organization. Good schools might become great schools. Good newspapers might become great newspapers. Good churches might become great churches. Good government agencies might become great agencies. And good companies might become great companies. So, I invite you to join me on an intellectual adventure to discover what it takes to turn good into great.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2  Quotes

The business media called the move stupid and Wall Street analysts downgraded the stock. Smith never wavered. Twenty-five years later, Kimberly-Clark owned Scott Paper outright and beat Procter & Gamble in six of eight product categories. In retirement, Smith reflected on his exceptional performance, saying simply, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker), Darwin E. Smith
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless. To quickly grasp this concept, think of United States president Abraham Lincoln (one of the few Level 5 presidents in United States history), who never let his ego get in the way of his primary ambition for the larger cause of an enduring great nation. Yet those who mistook Mr. Lincoln’s personal modesty, shy nature, and awkward manner as signs of weakness found themselves terribly mistaken, to the scale of 250,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including Lincoln’s own. While it might be a bit of a stretch to compare the good-to-great CEOs to Abraham Lincoln, they did display the same duality.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

Level 5 Leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Maxwell made it absolutely clear that there would only be seats for A players who were going to put forth an A+ effort, and if you weren’t up for it, you had better get off the bus, and get off now. One executive who had just uprooted his life and career to join Fannie Mae came to Maxwell and said, “I listened to you very carefully, and I don’t want to do this.” He left and went back to where he came from. In all, fourteen of twenty-six executives left the company, replaced by some of the best, smartest, and hardest-working executives in the entire world of finance.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker), David Maxwell
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

If you have the right executives on the bus, they will do everything in their power to build a great company, not because of what they will “get” for it, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything less. Their moral code requires excellence for its own sake, and you’re no more likely to change that with a compensation package than you’re likely to affect whether they breathe. The good-to-great companies understood a simple truth: The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they’re capable of, regardless of the incentive system.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Members of the good-to-great teams tended to become and remain friends for life. In many cases, they are still in close contact with each other years or decades after working together. It was striking to hear them talk about the transition era, for no matter how dark the days or how big the tasks, these people had fun! They enjoyed each other’s company and actually looked forward to meetings. A number of the executives characterized their years on the good-to-great teams as the high point of their lives. Their experiences went beyond just mutual respect (which they certainly had), to lasting comradeship.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4  Quotes

A&P then began a pattern of lurching from one strategy to another, always looking for a single-stroke solution to its problems. It held pep rallies, launched programs, grabbed fads, fired CEOs, hired CEOs, and fired them yet again. It launched what one industry observer called a “scorched earth policy,” a radical price-cutting strategy to build market share, but never dealt with the basic fact that customers wanted not lower prices, but different stores.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

The moment a leader allows himself to become the primary reality people worry about, rather then reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse. This is one of the key reasons why less charismatic leaders often produce better long-term results than their more charismatic counterparts.

Related Characters: Jim Collins
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker), Jim Stockdale (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5  Quotes

Putting aside their egos, the Wells Fargo team pulled the plug on the vast majority of its international operations, accepting the truth that it could not be better than Citicorp in global banking. Wells Fargo then turned its attention to what it could be the best in the world at: running a bank like a business, with a focus on the western United States. That’s it. That was the essence of the Hedgehog Concept that turned Wells Fargo from a mediocre Citicorp wanna-be to one of the best-performing banks in the world.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

It may seem odd to talk about something as soft and fuzzy as “passion” as an integral part of a strategic framework. But throughout the good-to-great companies, passion became a key part of the Hedgehog Concept. You can’t manufacture passion or “motivate” people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Does every organization have a Hedgehog Concept to discover? What if you wake up, look around with brutal honesty, and conclude: “We’re not the best at anything, and we never have been.” Therein lies one of the most exciting aspects of the entire study. In the majority of cases, the good-to-great companies were not the best in the world at anything and showed no prospects of becoming so. Infused with the Stockdale Paradox … every good-to-great company, no matter how awful at the start of the process, prevailed in its search for a Hedgehog Concept.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6  Quotes

This creative duality ran through every aspect of Abbott during the transition era, woven into the very fabric of the corporate culture. On the one hand, Abbott recruited entrepreneurial leaders and gave them the freedom to determine the best path to achieving their objectives. On the other hand, individuals had to commit fully to the Abbott system and were held rigorously accountable for their objectives. They had freedom, but within a framework.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

I realize that it’s a bizarre analogy. But in a sense, the good-to-great companies became like David Scott. Much of the answer to the question of “good to great” lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then to seek continual improvement from there. It’s really just that simple. And it’s really just that difficult.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Inequality still runs rampant in most business corporations. I’m referring now to the hierarchical inequality which legitimizes and institutionalizes the principle of “We” vs. “They.” … The people at the top of the corporate hierarchy grant themselves privilege after privilege, flaunt those privileges before the men and women who do the real work, then wonder why employees are unmoved by management’s invocations to cut costs and boost profitability … When I think of the millions of dollars spent by people at the top of the management hierarchy on efforts to motivate people who are continually put down by that hierarchy, I can only shake my head in wonder.

Related Characters: Ken Iverson (speaker), Jim Collins
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7  Quotes

Walgreens didn’t adopt all of this advanced technology just for the sake of advanced technology or in fearful reaction to falling behind. No, it used technology as a tool to accelerate momentum after hitting breakthrough, and tied technology directly to its Hedgehog Concept of convenient drugstores increasing profit per customer visit.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hedgehog Concept
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Indeed, the big point of this chapter is not about technology per se. No technology, no matter how amazing—not computers, not telecommunications, not robotics, not the Internet—can by itself ignite a shift from good to great.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8  Quotes

But the good-to-great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified the transition. Frequently, they chafed against the whole idea of allocating points and prioritizing factors. In every good-to-great company, at least one of the interviewees gave an unprompted admonishment, saying something along the lines of, “Look, you can’t dissect this thing into a series of nice little boxes and factors, or identify the moment of ‘Aha!’ or the ‘one big thing.’ It was a whole bunch of interlocking pieces that built one upon another.”

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Flywheel
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Although it may have looked like a single-stroke breakthrough to those peering in from the outside, it was anything but that to the people experiencing the transformation from within. Rather, it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel. After pushing on that flywheel in a consistent direction over an extended period of time, they’d inevitably hit a point of breakthrough.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Flywheel
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Consider Kroger. How do you get a company of over 50,000 people—cashiers, baggers, shelf stockers, produce washers, and so forth—to embrace a radical new strategy that will eventually change virtually every aspect of how the company builds and runs grocery stores? The answer is that you don’t. Not in one big event or program, anyway.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Flywheel
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

The point of this story is that these ideas work. When you apply them in any situation, they make your life and your experience better, while improving results. And along the way, you just might make what you’re building great. So, I ask again: If it’s no harder (given these ideas), the results better, and the process so much more fun—well, why wouldn’t you go for greatness?

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 207-208
Explanation and Analysis:

Perhaps your quest to be part of building something great will not fall in your business life. But find it somewhere. If not in corporate life, then perhaps in making your church great. If not there, then perhaps a nonprofit, or a community organization, or a class you teach. Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done.

Related Characters: Jim Collins (speaker)
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jim Collins Character Timeline in Good to Great

The timeline below shows where the character Jim Collins appears in Good to Great. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
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Author Jim Collins begins by stating that good is the enemy of great. His previous book, Built to... (full context)
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Collins goes on to describe how he and his research team selected the good-to-great companies that... (full context)
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After assembling a research team, Collins looked for companies that showed fifteen years of average or below-average performance in the stock... (full context)
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...company selected had shown the good-to-great trend without being in an overall great industry. Additionally, Collins and his team decided to use only the stock market results pattern as their standard... (full context)
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In analyzing their data, Collins and his team developed the concepts detailed in the book directly from the data. They... (full context)
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Collins then introduces a framework of concepts that he and his research team developed in order... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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Collins opens with an anecdote about Darwin E. Smith, a former CEO of the paper company... (full context)
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Collins characterizes Smith as an example of a Level 5 Leader. Level 5 Leaders “blend extreme... (full context)
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Collins notes that Level 5 Leaders are always characterized by not one, but two defining traits:... (full context)
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Collins notes that in interviews for the book’s study, Level 5 Leaders rarely talked about themselves,... (full context)
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In conclusion, Collins reiterates that Level 5 Leaders are not just humble. Rather, they balance their humility with... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Collins notes that he expected the study to show that good-to-great companies first set a new... (full context)
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Collins emphasizes that the point of the chapter is not just the importance of having the... (full context)
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Additionally, Collins reports that patterns of executive compensation were not clearly linked with the transitions from good... (full context)
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Finally, Collins notes that even though good-to-great companies are generally demanding workplaces, their processes of finding and... (full context)
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Collins sums up this rigorous approach as three “practical disciplines”: don’t settle for hiring the wrong... (full context)
Chapter 4 
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Collins opens with an anecdote about two grocery store chains, A&P and Kroger. While A&P was... (full context)
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...customers wanted—better, more comprehensive stores—and acted on that information by revamping their entire business model. Collins points out that this transformation illustrates the idea that “facts are better than dreams” when... (full context)
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Collins gives another example through the case of Pitney Bowes and Addressograph, two office automation companies... (full context)
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...work hard to hear that truth. Turning to strategies for creating that kind of culture, Collins notes that one trend among good-to-great companies is leadership focused on questions rather than answers.... (full context)
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...Iverson of Nucor was known for fostering heated debate around every important company decision. Finally, Collins notes that good-to-great companies show a trend of conducting thorough autopsies of failed initiatives, without... (full context)
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...the ability to keep believing that they would succeed, even when the outlook was bleak. Collins gives the example of Kimberly-Clark and its CEO Darwin Smith, who used the idea of... (full context)
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To explain the psychological duality that the management teams of good-to-great companies showed, Collins describes a framework that he calls the Stockdale Paradox. The Paradox refers to Jim Stockdale,... (full context)
Chapter 5 
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Collins relates a parable by the writer Isaiah Berlin about a hedgehog and a fox, in... (full context)
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Collins goes on to state that the people who led good-to-great companies were all hedgehogs in... (full context)
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Along with his research team, Collins found that the Hedgehog Concepts used to guide good-to-great companies were generally developed based on... (full context)
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Collins gives the example of Abbott Laboratories, which accepted that it could not be the best... (full context)
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...company must find out what its keys economic engine is and build around that understanding. Collins does not go into detail about all of these economic insights, but he does point... (full context)
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...their passions and use them to drive strategy and the development of the Hedgehog Concept. Collins notes that even at tobacco company Philip Morris, executives described working for the company as... (full context)
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Overall, Collins characterizes the use of the three circles and the development of the Hedgehog Concept as... (full context)
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Collins also emphasizes that Hedgehog Concepts can only be created through sustained debate, with most good-to-great... (full context)
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Collins concludes with an anecdote about his wife, an accomplished athlete who realized one day that... (full context)
Chapter 6 
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Collins begins with the story of George Rathmann, cofounder of the biotechnology company Amgen. Even though... (full context)
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Collins goes into more detail about Abbott, describing its system of carefully holding individual employees accountable... (full context)
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Collins spells out the crucial components of this kind of culture of discipline using four key... (full context)
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Collins emphasizes that the research points consistently to the need to have self-disciplined people within these... (full context)
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While cultures of discipline were crucial to the good-to-great companies, Collins and his team also found that unsustained comparison companies showed immense discipline. However, discipline in... (full context)
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Finally, Collins notes that “fanatical adherence to the Hedgehog Concept” is the last of the four crucial... (full context)
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In conclusion, Collins recommends the use of what he calls “stop doing lists” as a method to achieve... (full context)
Chapter 7 
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Collins relates the story of drugstore.com, an early internet pharmacy that gained a high market valuation... (full context)
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Collins lists the ways that each good-to-great company embraced new technology methodically, from Kroger’s early adoption... (full context)
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...not usually become pioneers in technology. Those who did were unsustained comparisons, which shows, as Collins writes, that “technology alone cannot create sustained great results.” Collins notes that this data-based conclusion... (full context)
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...and consistency of purpose. Again, technology supported their positive changes but did not cause them. Collins also points out that technology (or its absence) was never single-handedly responsible for the failure... (full context)
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Collins notes that some members of his research team were against including a chapter on technology,... (full context)
Chapter 8 
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Collins begins by introducing the symbol of the flywheel, a heavy metal disk that must be... (full context)
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...of the companies’ success usually did not begin until the flywheel was already moving fast. Collins notes that public perception of companies’ transitions to greatness is skewed accordingly; these changes seem... (full context)
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Collins describes how he and his team tried repeatedly to find “the one big thing” that... (full context)
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In contrast, Collins and his team found a pattern at the comparison companies that they term the doom... (full context)
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Collins zooms out on the idea of the flywheel to suggest that this model brings together... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Collins turns his attention to bringing the good-to-great concepts together with the ideas outlined in his... (full context)
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However, looking back after completing the two studies, Collins points out several significant relationships between them. He states that Good to Great turned out... (full context)
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Collins also points to the idea of “core ideology” as a notable link between the two... (full context)
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Collins goes on to recap the core concepts of Built to Last and lists how they... (full context)
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Collins concludes with the statement that creating “an enduring great company requires all the key concepts... (full context)
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Finally, Collins uses an anecdote about a school track team to illustrate the overall purpose of greatness... (full context)